CSC News

April 13, 2004

Students putting computer skills to work overseas this summer

Lauren Wellborn and Keigh Crawford are heading overseas to work this summer.Computer science juniors Lauren Wellborn and Keith Crawford are heading overseas this summer. While they expect to do quite a bit of exploring and sight-seeing, their main goal is to gain real-world experience, applying their computer science knowledge in an international setting.

Wellborn is heading to Copenhagen, Denmark, where she will work with DHI Water and Environment, developing algorithms and software for water resources allocation and reservoir operation, involving stochastic analysis and optimization methods. She will be working on a professional software development team of about five people, using Microsoft.net and c#.

“This is a great chance to put my acquired knowledge into action in the workplace, and it's a wonderful opportunity to become a fully functioning member of another culture,” Wellborn says. “I look forward to becoming independent in another country, and to practicing the German I've taken in college.”

Crawford is headed for Lima, Peru, where he will be working with Pacific Consulting Network, doing Web application development using Java.

“I love to travel and experience other cultures,” he said when asked why he chose to participate in the program. “International experience is key in today's business environment. I will learn valuable technical skills and gain experience, and my mind will be opened to how other cultures live and work.”

Wellborn and Crawford were pleased to find companies whose needs fit their skill sets.

“I will bring knowledge of the Java language that they requested and some Web development knowledge,” Crawford says, while Wellborn will bring her skills in development of algorithms and software. “I'm qualified for the position, and I'm comfortable and productive working in small groups, as stated in the job description,” she says.

Their international experiences are being arranged through NC State’s chapter of IAESTE, the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience. The international network coordinates on-the-job training for students in the fields of engineering, computer science, mathematics, the natural and physical sciences, architecture and agricultural science.

“IAESTE United States coordinated everything I needed for going abroad,” Wellborn says. “They met with IAESTE Denmark to exchange the job, are helping me get my work permit, and arranged housing for me.”

The work-abroad opportunity fits well with both their career goals.

“I love to travel, and it has long been a goal of mine to live abroad,” Wellborn says. This is a perfect opportunity to gain relevant work experience. I hope to be more motivated in the classroom upon my return, knowing that the skills I'm learning are valuable and applicable,” she says.

Crawford says, “I hope to find a job where appreciation of other cultures is just as important as knowledge and experience. A company that can recognize the significance of this internship will most likely fit those qualifications.”

Chris Holder, IAESTE vice president and NC State meteorology major, also stresses the importance of work experience and global skills for graduates entering the job market. “An equally important draw is the fun we have at our meetings, conferences, and events – including a reception for the students here in the summer – and of course when you go abroad to immerse yourself in another culture,” he says.

“IAESTE is wonderful for coordinating all of this,” Wellborn says. “They're non-profit, and organize internships abroad for all engineering majors. I'd like to encourage others to join, and to get our computer science (CSC) department more interested in the work abroad experience for its students.”

“All CSC students should check out IAESTE NCSU,” Crawford says. “It is a very fun organization and also very rewarding. Professors should also consider providing internships for international students through IAESTE.”

“The number of international experiences available for students here is based on the number of jobs arranged for students from other countries to come here,” Holder says. “If we raise 14 jobs, then we can send at least 14 students abroad,” he says.

One computer science faculty member is already on board with the program. Dr. William Stewart will be working with Yuji Matsuoka, a student from the University of Japan, this summer, incorporating him in his research on data structures for large sparse matrices and Markov chains.

Travel an added benefit
Wellborn and Crawford also plan to take advantage of travel opportunities while working abroad.

“IAESTE-Denmark organizes trips for the interns,” Wellborn says. “I know I'll be spending a weekend in Berlin. I'm also going to travel in Switzerland before I start my internship, and I expect I'll take a lot of weekend trips with other interns to Germany and the Netherlands.”

Crawford says he expects to do some backpacking, rock climbing, and exploring of Lima and the surrounding areas while on assignment, and generally, “experiencing as much of the culture as I can in my time there.”

Previous participants reflect on their experiences
Previous computer science students who participated in the program share their experiences at the IAESTE Website.

Alex Belskis, a computer science certificate alumnus (spring 2001), had an internship in Madrid, Spain, for over five months.

“The idea of doing that (traveling) while getting experience in an internship sounded great,” he states. Belskis worked in the biotechnology and healthcare division of a computer consulting company called SchlumbergerSema, doing software programming in Java for a project sponsored by the European Community. The goal of the project was to produce a tool to facilitate cooperation between medical professionals who speak different languages.

Belskis’ concerns about getting a ‘boring’ internship disappeared when he arrived on the scene. “I was assigned to a large project and put right to work. It turned out I was given more responsibility than I'd ever had before.”

And yes, he also had “lots of time to go traveling,” making trips to England and France and other cities in Spain.

Leif Johnson, computer science alumnus (spring 2002) worked for Salomon Automation in Graz, Austria, for his work abroad experience. He was there from August 2002 to April 2003, working at the medium-size logistics firm that writes custom warehouse management software.

“Like many other trainees, I was not really sure what the job would be like, and whether my poor language skills would be sufficient. When I got here, though, I got placed in the R&D department, where they put me to work on a really interesting project: writing a code generator using Jython.” His concern about the language difference dissipated upon arrival, as everyone he worked with also spoke English.

“I can't stress enough how great it is to be able to use the computer and language knowledge I have gained from school, and to learn new things at the same time,” he states. “It's like getting paid to be in school without any homework or stress.”

The applications for student placement in the program are due at the first of the year for internships the following summer through spring. “We concentrate most of our job-raising efforts in the fall semester, but it's really a year-round process,” Holder says.

IAESTE has been at NC State since 2000, arranging international internships that can range from eight weeks to a full year. Wellborn and Paul Sheehy, a computer engineering senior, are the College of Engineering’s IAESTE liaisons; Sheehy is also going abroad this summer.

Although at NC State only four years, the local chapter was awarded the U.S. IAESTE Local Committee of the Year award for the second year in a row, Holder says. “Nobody's ever done that before, and this is among the 20-some other schools which include Berkeley, Stanford, MIT, Michigan, and others.” The local chapter has also received the highest membership and best Website awards for the second year in a row.

“We are by far the most successful local committee in the nation,” he said, noting the support of faculty advisory George Wilson of the Office of International Affairs office and an advisory board comprised of faculty in various colleges and departments. The NC State IAESTE chapter office is located in Daniels 218.

Since 1950, IAESTE United States has linked thousands of America's brightest students with progressive employers in over 70 member countries. IAESTE United States is aimed at building global skills in tomorrow's technical leaders. More information is available online.

- rzewnicki -

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